Reed Smith LLP - True Picture

Reed Smith’s “dynamic” London office is the biggest of its bunch, offering trainees a medley of seats spanning transport, energy, media, and finance.

Reed Smith training contract review 2022

The Firm

What do Reed Smith, the polio vaccine and ferris wheels have in common? They all started out in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and have since travelled far and wide. Pittsburgh may be where this law firm began life, but today London holds the title of Reed Smith’s biggest office. The firm’s presence in London was born out of a noughties merger, so trainees detected a distinctly un-American feel to their firm of choice: “The English firm legacy ensures there’s a level of work-life balance that you don’t necessarily get at some American firms.” A certain US flavour is noticeable in that “we regularly have calls across the firm to hear from managing partners across the globe, and there’s so much cross-border work.” But despite the size of the firm (over 1,700 attorneys worldwide), trainees still felt they had “the opportunity to have a real impact on the firm.”

“We regularly have calls across the firm to hear from managing partners across the globe."

Reed Smith is noted UK-wide in Chambers UK in areas like shipping, gaming, music, film & television, insurance, commodities and asset finance. Chambers Global notes the firm internationally for its work on shipping financeand litigation, contentious insurance matters and climate change. Reed Smith’s London office has five core global industry focuses: transportation, energy, media, financial services and healthcare. Recruitment partner Andrew Jenkinson tells us that “it’s all about making those industry groups work together in partnership. For example, there’s great work there that comes out of our media industry contacts that feeds into the corporate expertise we have.”

The Seats

Trainees meet with the firm’s learning & development team each seat after submitting their seat preferences. If first-years don’t get their choices, “it’s fine because later in the training contract, you get what you want.” Interviewees praised the firm’s “really useful” workload tracker. “We indicate how free we are and what we’d like to do,” one explained. “It gives me a chance to do a wider range of stuff because everyone can see what I’m working on.”

A seat in transport encompasses both shipping and aviation matters, but seafaring affairs form the bulk of the practice. The shipping portion deals with both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ matters – dry shipping covers contractual elements (like a charter party), while wet shipping usually involves “everything that goes wrong at sea,” like vessel collisions and pollution issues. Trainees work in either the transport litigation or asset finance sub-groups. Shipping litigation covers both wet and dry matters, arising from “things arriving late and damaged cargo, as well as finance agreements gone wrong.” Trainees also saw “big arbitrations and sanction issues.” The team works for shipping-related companies such as Steamship Mutual, Ocean Network Express, Vale and Gard. One trainee told us, without a word of irony, that they get “thrown in at the deep end.” Here trainees reported getting client contact “immediately,” particularly on small matters. On larger cases, they’re in charge of witness preparation, drafting letters and “a lot of bundling. We prepare mammoth bundles for trials that are about 30 or 40 ring binders of 300 pages – both sides.”

“You feel like you’re in MI5 or something.”

In asset finance, trainees work on matters where finance is “secured against any sort of ship, vessel or aircraft,” like a mortgage. The team represents big-hitter banks, like HSBC, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. The firm recently advised financial adviser Australis Maritime on a loan to buy 17 ships from Cerberus Capital Management. “Shipping is an asset like no other because they move and sail,” one trainee reflected. “You can’t just take the keys when they default. There’s a game of cat-and-mouse and tactics because you don’t want to end up with them docking in a jurisdiction like China where the legal process would be made years long.” For that reason, trainees here had to track vehicles – “you feel like you’re in MI5 or something.” Trainees also speak with local counsel, conduct research and review case documents.

Entertainment and media is unsurprisingly a hugely popular seat choice. The team handles both transactional and litigation work, and trainees do “a vague split” between the two.Litigation work featured a lot of defamation cases for both companies and individuals, as well as trade mark and copyright infringement issues. Transactional work covers a lot of music licensing and financing for large entertainment projects like films. The team represents household names in the industry, including the BBC, Channel 4, Soundcloud and Sony Music. During lockdowns, the team worked with MelodyVR to deliver streamed live music gigs. Sticking with the music scene, the firm also advised Massive Attack on the sale of the band’s publishing catalogue to Round Hill Music. In the small screen biz, it also advised Barclays Bank on the financing of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks and The Circle. Typical trainee tasks included research, proof reading, drafting licences, and “composing tables of whether licences have specific clauses.”

The financial industry group consists of three subgroups: restructuring, structured finance and banking. Trainees “aren’t just confined to one area – you can help out across the floor.”Restructuring work covers liquidations and “advising clients on buying assets out of insolvency," while banking covers all the typical finance-type work, as well as “blockchain and its application in the financial space.” The team represents both lenders and borrowers. On the former, all kinds of financial institutions appear on the books, including Bank of Ireland, BNP Paribas, HSBC, NatWest and RBS. The team recently advised Santander on the restructuring of a £39 million loan to BBB Broadband. Trainees here conduct research, take attendance notes, draft letters to clients and “sit in on meetings advising other lawyers in the firm on finance issues.”

“It’s really nerdy, cool work. Just like the people.”

Energy & projects was heralded as “a really funky team” that does “such quirky work.” The group does a lot of commodities work, where things like oil, gas, emissions allowances and even cryptocurrency and gold bars are used as an asset in securitisation, bond issuances or loans. “There are really interesting regulatory issues on those matters,” trainees found.The group also tackles financial derivatives work, the creation of big projects like powerplants, and Brexit implications for clients. Clients range from energy giants like Shell to Vestas Wind Systems, a Danish wind turbine company. The firm recently represented ten banks in a loan taken out by the Ghana Cocoa Board to purchase up to $1.3 billion of cocoa crop. The team also represented Macquarie Bank in its acquisition of Société Générale’s energy commodities portfolio. “It’s really nerdy, cool work,” one trainee praised. “Just like the people – they’re so passionate about what they do.” Trainees here drafted letters and memos for clients, liaised with their international colleagues and conducted research.

International secondments were cancelled in 2020/21, but usually trainees get to apply to go to offices in Dubai, Singapore, Athens, Paris and New York. “It’s not expected that everyone will do one,” but trainees reckoned “you can easily get one if you want.” Trainees tend to do secondments in their second seat (qualified associates also get the chance to go on secondment). All secondees in 2021 did virtual placements with clients, and this proved to be a great way for trainees to get “lots of responsibility and skills.”

There are also internal and external pro bono secondment options with Liberty, a human rights charity, and Reprieve, a charity that challenges death penalty cases. Associates can bill up to 100 hours of pro bono, and trainees told us that most at the junior end get involved: “It’s a great way to get responsibility early on!” Pro bono work involves helping halt deportations, aiding victims of domestic violence and doing corporate and finance work for charities.

Trainee Life

Interviewees described Reed Smith as a “dynamic” firm that takes on trainees who are “all very intellectually curious, talkative and easy to get on with.” This helped to “eliminate competition” in the cohort: “We’re all in this together.” Beyond the trainee level, our interviewees described the firm as “an all-round positive working and learning environment” where “everyone’s ready to share knowledge.” We heard from one interviewee that their supervisor“constantly checks in with me to make sure I’m not over capacity and to help with queries.”

There’s also “a lot of formal training,” particularly in shipping: “The entire first week and a half in that seat was dedicated to training,” one told us.Reed Smith also uses a ‘trainee feedback tool’, where supervisors “can write comments on your work and say where you could have done better. It gives them auto-reminders so it’s much better than emailing asking for feedback on every little thing” – an important consideration when you’re just finding your feet.

Despite COVID and working remotely, trainees reported a “relaxed and friendly atmosphere.” Over lockdown Reed Smith hosted a fortnightly firm-wide video conference called London Calling, featuring experts in the firm as well as external speakers including BBC actors talking about “poignant issues – it was a nice break in your Wednesday and was part of the big push to look after everyone.” The firm also hosted “mental health movie nights where they streamed something for us all to watch.” We were also told the firm has counselling available, with medical insurance extending to mental health needs. “We also had some coaching sessions about Zoom working and techniques for getting through the day and looking after our mental health.” With initiatives like this, trainees felt Reed Smith is doing “innovative and extensive” work in diversity and inclusion. The firm allows lawyers to count any hours they spend on diversity initiatives and events towards their billable targets, “which shows how much importance the firm places on the issue.”

“If a partner or associate sees me online too late, they’ll tell me to log off.”

Trainees themselves don’t have billing targets – but when they qualify, they’ll be expected to do 1,800, with an extra bonus at 2,000. In general, “people log off around 7.30pm or 8pm.” Tax has quieter hours whereas shipping will more likely see trainees in for finishes as late as 10pm (the latest night we heard of was 3.30am). Despite its links to the US (which is known for more punishing hours), trainees reiterated that the firm’s conception through a merger with an English firm means there’s “no sense of facetime culture – there’s no false urgency and there’s a big push not to work on weekends.” There’s also a sense of camaraderie: “If a partner or associate sees me online too late, they’ll tell me to log off.” When it comes to compensation, interviewees agreed “it’s pretty good. I really can’t complain.” First-year trainees get paid £45,000, rising to £90,000 on qualification.

Come qualification time, trainees apply to the department of their choice with a CV, covering letter and all their appraisals and feedback. “There’s great communication about the process,” said trainees. “Some people want it brought forward, but HR have said they don’t want people to worry about it too early.” We heard that it’s “rare for someone to outright want to leave here – the reason that people tend to leave is if they want a particular seat that’s too popular, like media and entertainment.” Interviewees felt Reed Smith “values its home-grown talent.” It kept on nine of thirteen qualifiers in 2021.

Long Island Iced Microsoft Teams

During Covid, Reed Smith posted out cocktail kits to trainees for a boozy online social – “it’s making up for casual drinks after work.”

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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 5)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 4)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 5)
    • Pensions (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 2)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Physicals (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 3)
    • Shipping (Band 1)

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